Archive | November 2015

San Jose Return Trip

A couple days before our trip to SJO we thought it might be prudent to see if the advertised “free airport shuttle” would in fact be valid for our late arrival time, 11:50PM, even though it was advertised as 24 hour.

Contacting the hotel we were told that it was. Did we make reservations with Interbus? Hmm, no. First I heard of that. Reading the print on the website one can see that the shuttle reservations can be guaranteed only if made within twelve hours of making the reservation. Didn’t know that. It was never mentioned. Maybe because we booked through Trip Advisor.

A very helpful employee showed me how to reserve the shuttle from the Adventure Inn website. Filling out the online form was a breeze, but the confirmation number I plugged in didn’t work. An error message said to contact the hotel. So I did. They determined that booking through a 3rd party with a 3rd party reservation number was the reason. So I was promptly emailed a link with the “correct” reservation number already plugged in. How neat is that! So reserving the shuttle went smoothly enough. An Interbus email confirmation said a uniformed driver would be waiting just outside the arrival area holding a sign with our name on it.  That sounded great.

But the plane was late leaving HOU and arrived almost 1.5 hrs late. I had assumed that the shuttle people would be experienced enough to keep an eye on airline schedule changes. Maybe. Maybe not. No uniformed driver holding a sign with our name on it was to be found. And we DID look.

Attempts were made to phone Interbus by two different people, but “no contesta nadie!”. By the time we gave up on the Interbus shuttle all the cabs had left the arrival area. Our porter found someone in a van labeled “Turismo” that would to take us to our hotel. I was vaguely aware that upon arrival a number of cabbies were holding up signs that said something to the effect “Legitimate Cab”. But the time was fast approaching 2AM and all we wanted was to get to the hotel.

We weren’t long out of the airport when we both began to feel uneasy. One reason is that there were two “drivers” sitting up front. And we started going down smaller roads. And the hour was late with few people out and about.

The driver said up front that the trip would take about 20 min. but in fewer than 10 min we were at the hotel, all safe and sound. The Turismo driver, we noticed, had no taximeter. Well, he wasn’t a taxi. Just took advantage of an opportunity and charged us what turned out to be 2X normal cab fare!

The desk clerk acknowledged the routing. She said that t the hotel would refund our money if we could get a receipt. But the clerk was picky about what constituted a receipt. The driver wrote something out on a piece of paper but that wasn’t good enough. Same thing for the back of his business card. I really began to get the impression that we were just getting lip service. Guess I’ll never know for sure.

Our room was not a disappointment. Nice and quite spacious.  We were so tired we didn’t notice, or look for, an A/C until morning. With San Jose’s elevation being several thousand feet, the night was comfortable enough without it.

The next morning the desk clerk on duty was familiar with the events of a few hours earlier. He brought the subject up himself when he learned our room number. Seems the boss told him to refund our $25! Now that’s a good way to start our day! We’re once again happy campers.

Breakfast was a nice spread of local fruits, some of which will be foreign to many gringos, like uchova and jocote.

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Not too many “free” breakfasts allow you to order from a menu. We had our choice of 6 or 8 entrees offered. Found that the names of the dishes didn’t necessarily fit our preconceived notions of what they were, however.  Huevos rancheros. …. well, they weren’t. Like Tex-Mex in Panama, well, it isn’t. But the fact that we had a choice is impressive enough.

With a bit of time on our hands before the bus ride back to Panama, I walked around the hotel to get a better feel for the place. It’s not in the mold of any major chain. Hand-painted murals with tropical themes abound on the mostly tall walls. Pre-Columbian statuary is everywhere. There’s a spacious community area midway on upper floor of the two story building.


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We used that refunded $25 to pay another Turismo driver to take us to the downtown bus terminal, but this one came recommended by the hotel. The desk clerk said we would be charged fairly, probably $20 or $25USD.  It turns out he charged $20. We tipped him $5 in part because he was such a pleasant fellow and we enjoyed his conversation. Also, we were expecting to pay $25.

Maybe he thought we were being generous because after we paid him he insisted on schlepping our luggage into the bus terminal, of which we had plenty. (It’s always a joy to restock the larder with treasures from the states.)

I was right about the outbound tickets. $21 plus $7 departure tax for each of us. I’m sure Costa Rica isn’t the only country to charge a departure tax, but somehow this just doesn’t sit right with me. It’s like charging an exit tax to leave an amusement park, or a theater, or whatever. Whatever.

As we were boarding the bus an employee couldn’t help but notice that we’re both on the tall side. In spite of having been assigned seats toward the front of the bus, he offered us two seats behind an exit door. With loads of legroom, it made a huge difference for us on the eight and a half hour bus trip back home.   It would be another hour’s drive from the bus terminal to our home in the mountains above Boquete.

Back to Houston via San Jose, Costa Rica

This time for our return trip to the states we elected to go through San Jose, CR instead of Panama City.  It’s something we had wanted to do for some time.  Just for comparison purposes.  As we were able to get fantastic rates on Southwest Airlines, this seemed like a good time to do it.

Departure day arrives.  After waking up at 1:30 and dozing only briefly for moments at a time thereafter, I was up for good at 5AM.  We were on  the road before  6:00 and arrived at the David, Panama  bus station just after 6:30.  A Tracopa ticket window that I didn’t notice earlier had a sign that said “Open at 7:30AM”.  That sounded about right for a departure that I understood to be something after 8:00.

 

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As we had almost an hour to kill, we decided to have breakfast at a nearby McDonalds.  Very glad for that.  I hate missing breakfast.

As McDonalds didn’t open until 7AM, we arrived back at the bus terminal a bit past window opening time.  Jan stayed with the luggage and bought the tickets while I parked the car at the other end of the terminal ($5/day).  The tickets cost $20 each but we got a $6 discount,  presumably because of our pensianado visas.  I’m not expecting the same discount when we buy the return tickets in Costa Rica.

The bus left for the border at 8:45, only 15 min late.  Our transportation vehicle was much smaller than the David-to-PC buses, and not air conditioned.  But we were expecting that.

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Upon boarding we were given customs and immigration forms to fill out, similar to the airlines.

We reached the border soon enough.  A short nap helped with that.  The bus unloaded all the luggage and we were shown into a thankfully air conditioned room, the only one we would see until we arrived at our hotel in Costa Rica.  An official made a roll call of all the passengers and then our luggage was (sort of) inspected.

From there we went around the corner to another line.  While awaiting our turn a beggar came by with a paper cup.  From the looks of things everyone was expected to contribute something.

The clerk wanted our passports and our residency visas.  But neither of the two forms we had previously filled out.  Not sure what department we were dealing with here.  We got a passport stamp and our photo was taken.

From there we walked about 100 yds to a place that was customs, according to the signage.

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But the clerk asked for our immigration forms, not customs.   Another stamp.  A sign at her window indicated requirements for entry into CR but she wasn’t too strict about it, at least not with us.

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Then just next door (actually, outdoors with a roof for cover), we were reunited with our luggage and waited, and waited, for a non-uniformed lady to eventually show up.  Once again, our luggage was sort of inspected.

 

Boarding the bus again we  had our luggage checked and were given claim tickets for the first time.  Didn’t happen earlier.  The guy loading the bags said something about a tip, in Spanish.  I pretended not to understand.  That didn’t work, so he asked for $2.  It remains unclear whether or not that was a legitimate  charge.  I suspect it  wasn’t.

 

Forty minutes or so after arriving at the border, we were on our way again.The scenery, for  the most part, was the same as Panama,  except for vast acreage with  palms under cultivation.   Later learned they were harvested for palm oil.

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Stopped for lunch at Flor de Sabana around 1230 .  Cafeteria style, two of us ate for  something under 10USD.  Beer, as an afterthought, was another 2.26USD, or 1200Colon.  More than twice what I would have paid in Panama, but worth it at the time.  It may have been an n/a beer, as I’m a cheap drunk and I felt nothing, despite it being consumed midday.    But it tasted good.  In half an hour, we were back on the road.  3 hrs to go, +/-.

Refreshment and pit stop around 3:30.  Small bottle of tea, small box assorted candies, peanut brittle bar, small ice cream sandwich came to $8.  Ouch!

It was nearly 5:00 when we finally arrived at the bus terminal in San Jose.  The cab ride from there was a nightmare.  It was rainy and we arrived at just about the worst time for traffic.  It took an hour and cost $40.

Finally at the hotel (Holiday Inn Express) I was feeling smug that I’d thought to bring along some rum.  Couldn’t wait to get a Coke and r-e-l-a-x.  Incredibly, the Coke machine wanted  $2!  I know that sets a record for the amount of money I ever put in a Coke machine.

Following a refreshing drink or two … or three … we walked over to a Denny’s for a minimal dinner.  That came to over $30.

Next morning we’re up at 5:00, per Jan’s arrangement with the front desk.  I’m in the shower at 5:15 suddenly questioning why I’m up so early.  It turns out Jan thought our flight left a 8:00.  In fact, it’s scheduled for 9:00.  Now we’re waiting for the dining room to open for breakfast at 6AM.

The San Jose airport was a delight.  Smallish, but big enough.  Not at all crowded.  Things moved fast and progressed smoothly.  At least until we reached the boarding gate.  Like PTY in Panama City, there is yet ANOTHER luggage inspection before boarding the plane.  So far I’ve not been able to determine the reasoning behind this.  The inspection was so casual I wonder why they even bothered.  And not a single Muslim on the flight, as far as I could tell.    Maybe that’s why it was so casual.